CDW Joins Chromebook Crusade

Feb 06, 2013 (10:02 AM EST)

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New Chromebook: A Visual Tour
New Chromebook: A Visual Tour
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Slowly but surely, Google's Chrome OS and the Chromebooks manufactured by its hardware partners are finding fans. The latest sign that momentum is building comes from CDW, which sells technology to the business, government, education, and healthcare markets.

On Tuesday, CDW said it will begin offering the full range of Google's Chromebook line, with access to Google's Web-based management console, to public- and private-sector customers.

For Google, the partnership represents an opportunity to expand its enterprise business. Chromebooks have found a place in some companies but they've been more well-received in schools. Last week, Google said that over 2,000 schools are using Chromebooks, twice the number from three months earlier.

[ Find out why the latest Chromebook breaks no new ground. HP Makes Its Chromebook Play. ]

Andrea Bradshaw, senior director and general manager of mobility solutions at CDW, in a statement stressed that Chromebooks offer two distinct advantages: ease of use for the user and peace of mind for management.

But that's just a rough sketch of the benefits of Chromebooks realized by Mollen Clinics, the largest independent mass-immunizer in the country.

Chris Behling, president of Mollen Clinics, described in a phone interview how his company previously provided people with flu shots at Walmart and Sam's Club locations. The process involved paper, lots of it -- around 20 million pieces of paper that had to be sent to Mollen's office in Scottsdale, AZ, for scanning, verification and billing.

The burden of having to handle all that paper was significant. It was expensive to process and it delayed billing. "There was a huge cash drag on the business because it took so long to get paid," said Behling. The paper process prevented on-site billing and was an imposition on customers, who had to spend time filling out forms before being immunized, he said.

Behling said that going paperless was the obvious answer, but his company didn't go the obvious route. "We looked at a tablets, smart forms with pens, we looked at everything," he said. "And we settled on Chromebooks."

Chromebooks fixed the problems of a paper-based business process, according to Behling. They made service faster, allowed for on-site billing, and eliminated 80% of those 20 million pieces of paper that needed to be processed. That in turn allowed the company to reduce its seasonal headcount by 20%.

Chromebooks also allowed Mollen to identify additional business opportunities. "They allowed us to expand and improve the services we offer customers," Behling explained. While interacting with Web-based software, the company's nurses, for example, could be presented with scripts to make inquiries that revealed other customer needs, such as whether the customer had received a whooping cough vaccination.

"At the same time, it allowed us to figure out whether the customer was eligible and covered," said Behling. "We could then tell customers they were in need and covered, and ask whether they wanted the service. We couldn't do that before."

Chromebooks didn't come without a cost. Mollen Clinics had to build a call center to provide technical support for the nurses at its 4,500 locations. The call center handles password issues, network connectivity problems and basic user support. But Behling says the cost was insignificant compared to the savings realized by transforming Mollen's business process and was less than it might have been with traditional computers, particularly with regard to security.

"All the Chromebooks could do was what they were intended to do," Behling said. "Creating that controlled environment on the Chromebook was hugely important."

Another aspect was network security. Had Mollen Clinics chosen to use in-store networks at Walmart and Sam's Club, it would have had to perform a security audit at every single location to meet healthcare regulations. Instead, Mollen took advantage of the optional 3G wireless connectivity offered in several Chromebook models.

"Having the Chromebooks work on the 3G network instead of Wi-Fi or a network connection in stores was extremely important for legal and liability reasons," said Behling. Equally important was the fact that Chromebooks store data in the cloud rather than locally.

"We've had no HIPAA-related issues as a result this process," said Behling. "And we would have had HIPAA-related issues if the paper got lost or if we were using machines that stored that data locally."

Chromebooks might not be ubiquitous at the moment, but between Google's new hardware partners, Lenovo and HP, the October expansion of Best Buy's Chromebook kiosks, the appearance of Chromebooks in Google Play (out of stock at the moment), and Google's new channel partner CDW, many industry players appear to be anticipating rising demand for Chrome OS devices.